Personal Relationships Across the Lifespan: A Suggestive Perspective from Communication Theory

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This article provides a suggestive, theoretical perspective regarding the developmental nature of personal relationships across the human lifespan. As an alternative to linear thinking, this interpersonal communication perspective builds upon an organismic conception of relationships that accommodates the complexities of relational changes over time, and advances a tetradic model of relational adjustment and adaptation. Building on the organismic perspective about relational change, this model identifies intensification, obsolescence, retrieval, and modification (or reversal) of interpersonal transactions as variable features of a given relationship. This theory provides a much-needed, simultaneous communicative approach to the study of any interpersonal relationship as it is influenced by and embedded in larger, complex kin, social, and socio-cultural networks across the lifespan. Dyadic, triadic, and socio-cultural relationships illustrate the changes that motivate this alternative perspective. Aspects of theoretic development create a system for projecting the usefulness of this alternative perspective. By exploring the dynamic and evolving communicative processes that emerge within varied relationships, researchers can further unfold the relational complexities of the aging process.


This article was originally published in Intercultural Communication Studies, volume 14, in 2005.